Former Whanganui woman Renae Flett has won Dairy Manager of the Year for the Manawatu Region, and may be the only female winner from any of the 11 regions.
The Manawatu region extends as far south as Paraparaumu, bordered roughly by the Tararua and Ruahine ranges to the edge of the Central Plateau, through Waiouru to Ohakune, through Raetihi, following SH4 to the coast, bisecting Whanganui at the river. The rest of Whanganui is in Taranaki.
"It took a lot of hard work," says Renae, who turns 30 today (Wednesday). She manages the Te Rata Farms property of Peter and Kim Bills at Linton, on the Tokomaru side of Palmerston North.
She built a presentation in display board form as well as a 64-page book, and hosted the judges when they came to see the farm and Renae at work. The book is an overview of the farm and the changes it has undergone under her management, right down to financial details, stock feed and fertiliser.
The large illustrated boards correspond with pages and sections of the book.
"I had a section called 'Power Play' and I could choose either farm financials, environment, health and safety and things like that. I picked farm environment because of what we've done here. We've fenced off all the streams and planted them up with natives and flax, planted 3500 trees ... we grow all our own trees. Full credit to Peter and Kim, the farm owners. They had done a lot of work before I arrived. As I came along we've finished it all off."
Renae entered the competition last year in her first year managing. She made it to the top five.
"This time I built on what I did the year before, but it was still another four months' work, working until midnight then getting up at five o'clock to milk."
The 16 entrants were judged by two judges until the field was reduced to the top five.
"Then we had three judges come around and judge us again. They come to the farm and I take them to different sections on the farm and I show them the photo boards. It takes about 10 minutes to get out to the back." The farm is about 200 hectares, including a bull block.
"We run 250 cows plus about 180 bulls. That's rising twos and rising ones, and we have our rising one-year-old heifers and our replacement heifers as well. Then we have another run-off about 20 minutes down the road. We are almost self-sufficient. The only time we get a contractor in is to chop our barley paddocks and bag it. That's why our working expenses are so low, because we do everything ourselves."
Renae took over the job from her partner Brayden Bills, who now contracts out driving tractors. The farm work is managed by Renae and Peter, with Kim helping out with milking when hay or balage has to be done. She says Brayden gives a hand when he's not busy. Renae gets every second weekend off (12 on, two off), during which time Peter takes care of the milking.
The property is a trial farm for Dairy NZ and it was they who encouraged Renae to enter Dairy Manager of the Year. "For the Nationals, the judges [a different set] will come back here and we'll do another round. Those same judges will judge everybody throughout the regions. I have judging between April 30 and May 11."
Renae attended Mosston School, Rutherford Intermediate and Wanganui High School. As a teenager her love was horses and ponies. That gave her a love of the outdoors and animals.
"A friend took me to milk one day in Bulls, because that's what he did and I thought I'd tag along. I had just left school and it's grown from there. Just before my 18th birthday I moved to Manawatu and got my first farming job," she says. Apart from a year in Taranaki she has remained in Manawatu, including a stint as 2IC on a farm in Ballance. She met Brayden not long after that and moved to her present farm as a junior manager.
"It took me forever to break into a manager's position. Being a girl in a male dominated industry was hard. I proved that I can do everything Brayden can do on a farm. Women think outside the square;. If I can't do something I will find a way to use a tractor or something else to help me and make it work."
As well as Dairy Manager of the Year, she picked up four merit awards. The nationals are held in May.
"I would really like to come away with a placing. That would be an absolute dream come true, and I will work as hard as I can to get there."
Renae is a competent amateur photographer and still competes in equestrian sports. She rides Sonic who stands at 17.1 hands. "He'll be having his fifth start this weekend. We're doing working hunter and saddle hunter classes and he'll eventually go jumping. He's only a baby."

230316PBRenae RENAE and Sonic PICTURE / PAUL BROOKS
230316PBRenae RENAE and Sonic PICTURE / PAUL BROOKS

Sonic's best friend is a miniature horse called Jaffa. "She goes everywhere with him," says Renae. Also on the farm is a bulldog called Chuck and a pet sheep called Lily.
Renae and Brayden's long-term goal is to own a farm, probably Te Rata. In the meantime, they're setting their sights on sharemilking. In the next few months Renae will be studying for a Diploma in Agribusiness through Primary ITO.